Researchers and engineers from 16 countries met to discuss the problem of infrastructure deterioration at a conference on corrosion problems in concrete, held at MIT from July 27-31. The event was co-sponsored by MIT and Grace Construction Products of Cambridge.
Repairs for corrosion damage to federal bridges in the United States cost $50 billion annually; more than half of these bridges need major work, most of it to repair corrosion. Estimates place the overall worldwide cost to repair reinforced concrete structures at $200 per meter of exposed surface area.
"For the billions of square meters of reinforced concrete, the costs of major repairs before the desired end of use is a large potential financial burden to industrialized society," the sponsors said in an overview presented by Professors Ronald M. Latanision of materials science and engineering and Oral Buyukozturk of civil and environmental engineering, and Dr. Neal S. Berke, research manager for Grace Construction Products.
"Our highways, bridges, seaports, water treatment systems and others serve society with little notice until something fails. This conference has brought together the world's experts with the goal of extending the life of such systems. I think we've taken a serious step in achieving that goal," said Professor Latanision, director of the H.H. Uhlig Corrosion Laboratory.
The conference--the first held at MIT on this interdisciplinary infrastructure problem--focused on fundamental understanding of the deterioration mechanisms, which provided a foundation for discussion of evolving test and inspection procedures, technologies that are emerging for the protection of metal embedments in concrete, construction code development and methodologies that are useful in predicting the life of large, concrete civil engineering structures.
In his opening remarks to the nearly 150 delegates, President Charles M. Vest said, "In recent years, we have heard a great deal about the 'information superhighway' and the ways in which modern telecommunications drive the global economyï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½
"Yet--as this group knows all too well--the sinews of the global economy are made of concrete as well as of fiber optic cable, of rebar as well as microchips. You also know that when it comes to maintenance, upgrade and replacement, our vast and vital concrete infrastructure has been widely and in some cases dangerously neglected. I hope that this conference marks the beginning of a close and continuing partnership to develop not only the tools for cost-effective anticorrosion programs, but also to encourage the implementation of such programs on a global scale."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 13, 1997.